October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED

 
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
October 2020

                         STANDING BY
Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
Executive Summary

Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of
American voters. Throughout the summer and leading up to the general election, these groups have
become more assertive, with activities ranging from intervening in protests to organizing kidnapping
plots targeting elected officials (​CNN, 13 October 2020​). Both the Department of Homeland Security and
the Federal Bureau of Investigation have specifically identified extreme far right-wing and racist
movements as a primary risk factor heading into November, describing the election as a potential
“flashpoint” for reactionary violence (​The Nation, 30 September 2020​; ​New York Times, 6 October 2020​).

ACLED collects and analyzes information about the actions of state, non-state, and sole perpetrator
violence​1 and demonstration activity. ​MilitiaWatch tracks, documents, and analyzes contemporary US
militia movements, and provides reports connecting long-term militia trends to broader political events.
ACLED and MilitiaWatch data indicate that right-wing militias have steadily ramped up their activities,
and taken on an increasingly outsized profile within the national political environment.

This joint report reviews the latest data on right-wing militia organizations across the country,
identifying the most active groups and mapping the locations most likely to experience heightened
militia activity before, during, and after the election.

Although many US militias can be described as ‘latent’ in that they threaten more violence than they
commit, several recently organized militias are associated with a right-wing ideology of extreme violence
towards communities opposed to their rhetoric and demands for dominance and control. The lack of open
sanctions of these groups from public figures and select local law enforcement has given them space to
operate, while concurrently allowing political figures to claim little direct responsibility for violent actions
from which they hope to benefit.

ACLED has tracked the activities of over 80 militias across the US in recent months, the vast majority of
which are right-wing armed groups. This report maps a subset of the most active right-wing militias,
including ‘mainstream militias,’ which are those that work to align with US law enforcement (the Three
Percenters, the Oath Keepers, the Light Foot Militia, the Civilian Defense Force, and the American
Contingency); street movements that are highly active in brawls (the Proud Boys, and Patriot Prayer); and
highly devolved libertarian groups, which have a history of conflict and are skeptical of state forces (the
Boogaloo Bois, and People’s Rights [Bundy Ranch]).

Analysis of a variety of drivers and barriers to militia activity allows for identification of high-risk
locations ahead of the election. These include locations that have seen ​substantial engagement in
anti-coronavirus lockdown protests as well as places where militias might have ​perceptions of ‘leftist
coup’ activities​. Spaces where militias have been active in setting up ​recruitment drives or holding

1
    ACLED tracks the activities of sole perpetrators in the US context though not in other contexts. For more, see ​this methodology primer​.
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
training for members ​are also at heightened risk, as are spaces where militia members cultivate
personal relationships with police or law enforcement or where there might be a friendly attitude
by law enforcement towards militia presence or activity. ​In the context of the upcoming election,
swing states ​are also at heightened risk, in line with scholarship around election violence and unrest
being more common in competitive spaces. And lastly, state capitals and ‘periphery’ towns also remain
important potential inflection points for violence, especially in more rural and suburban areas that have
been particularly conducive to the foundation and regular activities of militia groups. Medium-population
cities and suburban areas with centralized zones also serve as locations of major gravitational pull.
Barriers to militia activity, meanwhile, can include locations with an overwhelming left-leaning
population and/or large populations unsupportive of militias.

Based on these drivers and barriers, this report finds that capitals and peripheral towns, as well as
medium-population cities and suburban areas with centralized zones, in ​Georgia, Michigan,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, ​and Oregon are at highest risk of increased militia activity in the election and
post-election period, while ​North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California, ​and ​New Mexico ​are at
moderate risk. Spotlights on each of these states offer a glimpse into recent trends associated with militia
activity in each context in recent months.

Key Conclusions

There has been a major realignment of militia movements in the US from anti-federal government writ
large to mostly supporting one candidate, thereby generally positioning the militia movement alongside a
political party. This has resulted in the further entrenchment of a connection between these groups’
identities and politics under the Trump administration, with the intention of preserving and promoting a
limited and warped understanding of US history and culture.

These armed groups engage in hybrid tactics. They train for urban and rural combat while also mixing
public relations, propaganda works, and ‘security operations’ via both online and physical social
platforms to engage those outside of the militia sphere. There is an increasing narrative and trend that
groups are organizing to ‘supplement’ the work of law enforcement or to place themselves in a narrowly
defined ‘public protection’ role in parallel with police departments of a given locale.

Ahead of the election, right-wing militia activity has been dominated by reactions to recent social justice
activism like the Black Lives Matter movement, public health restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus
pandemic, and other perceived threats to the ‘liberty’ and ‘freedoms’ of these groups.

And right-wing militia groups are often highly competitive with one another, but many have coalesced
around this period of heightened political tension, and have even brought Proud Boys and QAnon-linked
groups into the fold. While some groups have indicated that they are receptive to calls for deescalation
and conflict avoidance, they remain vulnerable to hardline elements that may work clandestinely towards
violent action aimed at dominating public space around the election.

                                                     2
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
Contents
Introduction & Key Trends                                                                        5

Militias in the ACLED Dataset                                                                    7
    ‘Mainstream Militia’: Groups most likely to align with US law enforcement                    9
        Three Percenters                                                                        10
      Oath Keepers                                                                              10
      Light Foot Militia                                                                        11
      Civilian Defense Force and American Contingency                                           12
   Right-Wing Street Movements: Highly active in brawls                                         12
      Proud Boys                                                                                13
       Patriot Prayer                                                                            14
   Devolved Right-Wing Libertarian Groups: Highly-devolved groups, skeptical of state forces, with
   a history of conflict                                                                         15
       Boogaloo Bois                                                                             15
       People’s Rights (Bundy Ranch)                                                             16

Drivers and Barriers of Militia Activity                                                        17
States at risk of militia activity                                                              19
    States at highest risk                                                                      19
        Georgia                                                                                 19
       Michigan                                                                                 21
       Pennsylvania                                                                             22
       Wisconsin                                                                                23
       Oregon                                                                                   25
   States at moderate risk                                                                      26
       North Carolina                                                                           26
       Texas                                                                                    26
       Virginia                                                                                 27
       California                                                                               28
       New Mexico                                                                               29
   Conclusion                                                                                   29

                                                    3
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
Authors
Hampton Stall is a conflict anthropologist with a Masters in Development Practice from Emory
University. He researches armed and militant movements past and present in the US, Syria, Ireland, and
elsewhere. He created and runs the MilitiaWatch blog (available online at Militia.Watch) where he
combines data analysis, cultural contextualization, and current events to write about the movements and
realignments of the militia world. MilitiaWatch is a blog for collecting analysis on US-based militia
movements, from III% to Oath Keeper and everything in between. Through collection of open source and
semi-public information on units, movements, and ideology, MilitiaWatch hosts contemporary and
relevant articles on these groups.

Dr. Roudabeh Kishi ​is the Director of Research & Innovation at ACLED. She oversees the quality,
production, and coverage of all ACLED data across the globe; leads research and analysis across regional
teams; aids in new partnerships with local sources and users; and supports the capacity building of NGOs
and conflict observatories around the world. Dr. Kishi holds a Ph.D. in Government and Politics from the
University of Maryland with specializations in international relations and quantitative methodology.

Prof. Clionadh Raleigh ​is the Executive Director of ACLED. She is also Senior Professor of Political
Violence and Geography in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. Her primary research
interests are the dynamics of conflict and violence, African political environments and elite networks.

                                                   4
October 2020 - STANDING BY Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election - ACLED
Standing By: Right-Wing Militia Groups & the US Election
Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of
American voters. Throughout the summer and leading up to the general election, these groups have
become more assertive, with activities ranging from intervening in protests to organizing kidnapping
plots targeting elected officials (​CNN, 13 October 2020​). Both the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have specifically identified extreme far right-wing
and racist movements as a primary risk factor heading into November, describing the election as a
potential “flashpoint” for reactionary violence (​The Nation, 30 September 2020​; ​New York Times, 6
October 2020​).

ACLED collects and analyzes information about the actions of state, non-state, and sole perpetrator
violence​2 and demonstration activity. ​MilitiaWatch tracks, documents, and analyzes contemporary US
militia movements, and provides reports connecting long-term militia trends to broader political events.
ACLED and MilitiaWatch data indicate that right-wing militias have steadily ramped up their activities,
and taken on an increasingly outsized profile within the national political environment. This joint report
reviews the latest data on right-wing militia organizations across the country, identifying the most active
groups and mapping the locations most likely to experience heightened militia activity before, during, and
after the election.

Introduction & Key Trends
ACLED and MilitiaWatch have identified a major realignment of militia movements in the US from
anti-federal government writ large to mostly supporting one candidate, thereby generally positioning the
militia movement with a political party. This has resulted in the further entrenchment of a connection
between these groups’ identities and politics under the Trump administration, with the intention of
preserving and promoting a limited and warped understanding of US history and culture.

We find that these armed groups engage in hybrid tactics. They train for urban and rural combat while
also mixing public relations, propaganda works, and ‘security operations’ via both online and physical
social platforms to engage those outside of the militia sphere. There is an increasing narrative and trend
that groups are organizing to ‘supplement’ the work of law enforcement or to place themselves in a
narrowly defined ‘public protection’ role in parallel with police departments of a given locale.

Ahead of the election, right-wing militia activity has been dominated by reactions to recent social justice
activism like the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, public health restrictions due to the ongoing
coronavirus pandemic, and other perceived threats to the ‘liberty’ and ‘freedoms’ of these groups.

Right-wing militia groups are often highly competitive with one another, but many have coalesced around
this period of heightened political tension, and have even brought Proud Boys (more information below)
and QAnon-linked groups​3 into the fold. While some groups have indicated that they are receptive to calls

2
  ACLED tracks the activities of sole perpetrators in the US context though not in other contexts. For more, see ​this methodology primer​.
3
  QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy theory that holds that President Trump is hindered by ‘deep state actors’ within the US government. It
also claims that many members of the Democratic party elite are pedophiles and satan worshippers. In 2020, the loosely defined conspiratorial
movement has pivoted to claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.

                                                                     5
for deescalation and conflict avoidance,                                         Non-Right-Wing Groups
they remain vulnerable to hardline                   Amid rising political tensions ahead of the election, groups have organized
                                                     across the ideological spectrum. The vast majority of militias identified
elements that may work clandestinely                 over the summer are right-wing, and their activity is widespread and
towards violent action aimed at                      growing. Left-wing militia activity is not as pronounced, and while the
dominating public space (see, for                    specter of ‘Antifa’ looms large in the public imagination, violent activities
                                                     associated with this non-centralized movement have been minimal, and
example, ​Soufan Center, 19 October                  are often expressed in cyber actions (like doxxing), and with minimal
2020​).                                              rioting that typically does not involve threats or harm to individuals.

The first section of this report                     ‘Antifa’
introduces nine of the most active                   The loosely organized anti-fascist movement known as ‘Antifa’ engages in
                                                     two primary activities relevant to the behavior under review in this
militias in the US and reviews their
                                                     report. Local and interstate networks of antifascists organize counter-
origins, goals, and core activities. While           mobilization against right-wing street organizing, including against many
ACLED, through our partnership with                  of the groups analyzed below. The majority of ‘Antifa’ energy is spent
MilitiaWatch, has tracked the activity of            towards counterintelligence operations, primarily doxxing right-wing
                                                     activists and organizing publicly and semi-publicly available information.
over 80 militias across the US in recent             Antifa-affiliated activists are also rarely armed and do not exhibit a
months, only a select number of these                pattern of recruitment, training, and integration into a chain-of-command,
groups are highlighted below, for                    like most militia and armed groups.
brevity; footnotes throughout the
                                                     Not Fucking Around Coalition
report offer more insight into some of
                                                     The Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) is a burgeoning Black separatist
the other active militias in the US. This
                                                     movement that, in many ways, is a direct reaction to many of the
report concentrates predominantly on                 groups analyzed below. The NFAC is an all-Black, armed activist
right-wing militias, as this grouping has            movement started and led by an Atlanta DJ known as Grandmaster Jay.
                                                     They have appeared in opposition to mostly-white right-wing militia
seen the most significant increase in
                                                     movements and continue to call for retribution for Breonna Taylor’s death
their profile and activities in recent               at the hands of the Louisville police. While they clearly draw from and
months.​4 Their actions, planned and                 instrumentalize left-wing militant aesthetics (such as the Black Panther
executed, extend to the US election and              Party of the 1970s), they do not have an explicitly leftist political program.
                                                     In the past months, the leader of the NFAC has begun to call for the
beyond, and many of these groups have                establishment of a separatist Black ethnostate in Texas, and has
formed in reaction to other ongoing                  attempted to align his movement with other Black armed movements
crises including pandemic shutdown                   like the New Black Panther Party (not affiliated with the original
                                                     Panthers and widely disavowed by the same).
orders and social justice movements.
While some groups are localized, many                The NFAC have been active across at least three states and Washington,
engage in widespread activities                      DC since the start of the summer, including in their ‘home’ state of
                                                     Georgia; Kentucky, where they have shown up in Louisville in support of
throughout the US (see map below)                    Breonna Taylor; and Louisiana. The group has shown up exclusively in the
and transcend state borders.                         context of protests. For example, in late July, about 2,500 armed and 300
                                                     unarmed NFAC members held a rally in Louisville, Kentucky in support of
                                                     the BLM movement, demanding justice for Breonna Taylor. The group
In the final section of the report, we               was met by III%ers counter-protesting, resulting in verbal sparring
explore a number of drivers of militia               between the two groups, though police in heavy riot gear kept both sides
activity in order to identify areas at               apart.
heightened risk of militia activity in the
lead up to the vote, the election period
itself, and its aftermath.
4
  It also remains highly likely that individuals or small groups not affiliated with an ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ organization may
engage in violence. The US is in a highly charged political moment, and even those with more ‘mainstream’ views may be
inclined to escalate confrontations or commit violence in and around the election. These latent tendencies are difficult to track
or predict, but our focus here is not to exclude or minimize the possibility of individual actions. However, the focus of this
report is on specific groups and movements.
                                                                6
Militias in the ACLED Dataset
ACLED collects information on militias around the world and categorizes these groups as non-state armed
movements with members affiliated by ideology, identity, or community. Globally, militias are responsible
for more political violence than any other group, including governments, rebels, and insurgents. In many
countries, militias operate at the behest of political figures to influence competition and competitors
through attacks on candidates, supporters, ‘rival’ communities, and infrastructure. However, their actions
transcend elections and episodes of political competition, and these groups frequently operate as a
parallel violent fixture for political elites, parties, and interests. In some cases, these groups are kept ‘on
retainer’ for political figures in and out of government for whom they commit acts of violence. In
exchange for violence, these groups receive the patronage of political elites and impunity. Increasingly,
militias who operate as the violent arm of a political movement engage in lucrative, criminal activity to
supplement their incomes and ‘use their skills.’ They often have no clear political agenda and organize to
promote a particular politicized identity or an ideology centered on an identity, and their short-term
objective is to create violence and disorder across ‘rival’ communities.

These lessons on militias across the world are instructive in the US context. Although many US militias
can be described as ‘latent’ in that they threaten more violence than they commit, several recently
organized militias are associated with a right-wing ideology of extreme violence towards communities
opposed to their rhetoric and demands for dominance and control. The lack of open sanctions of these
groups from public figures and select local law enforcement has allowed them space to operate, while

                                                      7
concurrently allowing political figures to claim little direct responsibility for violent actions from which
they hope to benefit.

In order to make a potential grouping of these armed organizations more cohesive and their distinctions
more meaningful in terms of likely future actions, groups here are divided by their overall political
posturing (initially presented in the table below). We include (1) ‘mainstream militias,’ or groups most
likely to work with and alongside US law enforcement; (2) right-wing street movements, those that are
highly active in fighting in physical space; and (3) highly devolved right-wing libertarian groups, those
skeptical of state forces, with a history of conflict. Individual membership in these groups is not inflexible,
and individuals regularly join, leave, and cross the organizations represented below, as well as other
militias outside of the ones presented below. However, these groups provide an organizing framework
that many potentially-violent actors may use in the coming weeks.

Large, cross-state, right-wing militia movements​5
    Name             Type              Est. Size      Active Spaces              History of   Potential for
                                                                                 violence     violence

    Three            Mainstream        Large          Nationwide, organized      High         High
    Percenters       militia                          at assorted intervals
                                                      (depending upon group)

    Oath             Mainstream        Moderate       Nationwide, mostly         Moderate     Moderate
    Keepers          militia                          gathering on event basis

    Light Foot       Mainstream        Large          Nationwide, divided by     Low          Moderate
    Militia          militia                          region of state

    Civilian         Mainstream        Small          Nationwide, mostly         Low          Low
    Defense          militia                          online
    Force

    American         Mainstream        Moderate       Nationwide, mostly         Low          Low
    Contingency      militia                          online, divided by
                                                      region

    Proud Boys       Right-wing        Large          Nationwide, especially     Very High    Very High
                     street                           near cities
                     movement

    Patriot          Right-wing        Moderate       Pacific Northwest and      High         High
    Prayer           street                           West Coast
                     movement

    Boogaloo         Devolved          Moderate       Nationwide, highly         Very High    Very High
    Bois             right-wing                       devolved
                     libertarian

    People’s         Devolved          Large          Nationally dispersed,      Low          Moderate
    Rights           right-wing                       broken down into
                     libertarian                      sub-state regions

5
    Local chapters or local community militias are not represented here.
                                                                  8
‘Mainstream Militia’: Groups most likely to align with US law
enforcement
The ‘mainstream militia’ classification applies to a broad range of armed right-wing groups that are
well-documented in the last decade and beyond. They operate with some level of structure, schedule, and
strategy and engage in a number of different types of activities. Primary activities during the period
covered by this report include providing and supplementing ‘public security’ efforts in modalities that are
almost exclusively through counter-demonstrations. While these groups often define their operations in
terms of defense of the public and protecting businesses, they are almost always aligned towards a
particular political view. From this standpoint, through which they often see police and the US military as
allies, their implicit goals overlap with preserving the long-term dominant culture of the US, largely
perceived as traditionally pro-white and patriarchal systems of production and governance. Many of
these groups claim to be always ready and always watching, yet exhibit a pattern of activation in reaction
to calls for justice or equity for non-white Americans.

There are new undercurrents impacting this group of actors, such as the ‘new militia’ organizing capacity
that two actors here represent (American Contingency and Civil Defense Force, detailed below). These
new trends include a focus on sharing ‘intel’ on potential and active protests, an emphasis on
communication across great distances via social media sites, and a generally more cautious approach
towards mobilizing without a clear reason.

This section reviews the following ‘mainstream militia’ groups: the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers,
the Light Foot Militia, the Civilian Defense Force, and the American Contingency. The map below denotes
states in which the activities of these groups have been detected in recent months.

                                                    9
Three Percenters
The Three Percenters (III%ers) movement is a broad set of splinter movements based upon a shared
foundational and historically discredited myth that only three percent of the residents of the Thirteen
Colonies took up arms against the British. They were organized in 2008 after former President Barack
Obama’s ascendance to the presidency and declared they were established to fight against “tyranny.” In
2008, conservative fears of the first Black president of the US, potential new gun regulation, chances at
higher taxes, and the economic downturn of the Great Recession created an environment rife for
right-wing militia development. This moment was seized upon by Michael Brian Vanderboegh, who led
the Sons of Liberty militia in the 1990s and co-founded the armed Three Percent movement in 2008
amidst a rising current of Tea Party nationalism. Vanderboegh died in 2016, well after the III% movement
had grown far beyond his command (​Southern Poverty Law Center, 10 August 2016​).

In the years since Trump’s election in 2016, the III% movement has maintained their opposition to gun
regulation as ‘government tyranny,’ but also often operate in defense of the state. Most members are
actively pro-Trump. During this time, the III% movement has been marked extensively by internal
upheaval, splinters, and drama between both leaders and rank-and-file members (​MilitiaWatch, 11
September 2020​). The III% label now refers to a combination of disparate and disassociated militia
chapters, including the Security Force III%, the III% Defence Militia, the III% United Patriots, the
American Patriots III%, the III% Originals, the Real III%, and more. In many ways, the label ‘III%’
represents less a cohesive, singular militia movement and more a branding and political pole around
which individual chapters and movements are oriented (​MilitiaWatch, 15 June 2019​).

The III%ers and their various splinters have been active in at least 19 states since the start of summer
2020. They are especially present in Georgia, where over a quarter of all activity involving these groups is
reported. In some cases they have been present at protests without engaging. In other cases they have
directly intervened in demonstrations, both with and without the use of violence. In several recent events
they have operated to counter social justice demonstrations: in August, for example, heavily armed
militia, including the Arkansas American Patriots III%, showed up at a march against racism and in
support of the BLM movement, organized by Ozarks Hate Watch and Bridge the Gap NWA in Zinc,
northern Arkansas. The militia was present to block the protesters’ access to a Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
compound, on request of the KKK to ‘provide security.’ According to the protesters, “one militia member
kept pointing her rifle at the crowd with her finger on the trigger,” though no physical confrontation was
reported (​Insider, 4 August 2020​). In addition to involvement in demonstrations, a number of training
exercises have been reported across Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois.

Oath Keepers
The Oath Keepers are a militia movement organized to maintain the “oath” sworn by police officers and
members of the military to protect the US from enemies “foreign and domestic.” Like the III%ers, detailed
above, the Oath Keepers were founded out of the same political, social, and economic context of
conservative reaction against the election of former President Obama. The group concentrates on
recruiting active and retired officers from both the police forces and the armed forces of the United States
(​Anti-Defamation League, 18 September 2015​). The group’s founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, is a US
Army veteran and Yale Law School graduate.

                                                    10
The Oath Keepers have a history of conspiratorial and highly aggressive reaction to currents in US
politics. For example, in 2013 they formed a new corps of militia gatherings referred to as “Citizen
Preservation” groups to counter encroachment by the “New World Order” (​Daily Beast, 15 October 2013​).
After Trump’s victory at the polls in 2016, the Oath Keepers have struggled to find their ideological
footing, and were in direct conflict with members of the Alt-Right during part of 2017’s surge in Alt-Right
street activism (​Southern Poverty Law Center, 15 June 2017​). However, in the immediate contemporary,
the Oath Keepers have once again taken a more hardline right-wing stance. Stewart Rhodes was removed
from Twitter after actively calling for violence after Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson of Patriot Prayer was shot and
killed in Portland (more on this incident below) (​Yahoo! News, 10 September 2020​).

The Oath Keepers have been active in Kentucky and Texas since the start of the summer. The majority of
their activity has been in support of law enforcement in the form of presence at, yet not direct
engagement in, protests. For example, for three nights in a row in late September, the Oath Keepers were
present in Louisville, Kentucky in which they ‘guarded’ storefronts, businesses, and gas stations from
demonstrators associated with the BLM movement who had gathered to support justice for Breonna
Taylor. Taylor, a 26-year old Black woman and paramedic, was killed by police last March during a
botched raid on her apartment (​New York Times, 1 September 2020​).

In Texas, the Oath Keepers have been more directly engaged in demonstrations. In late July, in
Weatherford, outside of Fort Worth, members of the Oath Keepers were present in support of pro-statue
demonstrators, who had shown up to counter groups calling for the removal of a Confederate monument
located at the county courthouse grounds. The next day, in Tyler, an hour and a half east of Dallas, Oath
Keepers armed with semi-automatic rifles were present in support of a ‘Back the Blue’ rally. The rally was
counter to a concurrent rally showing solidarity for protesters in Portland who had been in a standoff
with federal agents for over a week and to register new Democratic voters. As such, Democratic
congressional candidate Hank Gilbert was also present and slotted to speak. A heavily armed Rusk town
councilman, Martin Holsome, who is ‘aligned’ with the Oath Keepers and other militias, was present as
well alongside the Back the Blue rally. The demonstration turned violent when counter-demonstrators
aligned with the Back the Blue rally instigated a physical altercation as Gilbert started his speech, while
others of the group created a ‘military-style defensive formation’ (​Washington Post, 27 August 2020​).
Three people were reportedly injured, though no arrests were reported. One of those injured was a top
aide for Gilbert; Gilbert noted that he had asked law enforcement to become involved and to allow for
their scheduled demonstration, but to no avail (​Washington Post, 27 August 2020​). More recently, the
Oath Keepers have held recruitment events in Texas, including in Houston.

Light Foot Militia
The ​Light Foot Militia (LFM) ​is a national militia gathering oriented around a purported ‘Constitutionalist’
and ‘apolitical’ approach. Unlike the III% movement, the LFM has remained mostly cohesive as a national
movement and has maintained a devolved organizational structure by placing emphasis on local and
regional chapters rather than a national gathering. They place less emphasis on a national leadership
structure, yet maintain a national-level identity aesthetically and in their operations. Each of the 86
identified chapters of LFM has its own particular political and social character, with some of the chapters
taking a more anti-left or anti-BLM stance than others, but the LFM claims to remain focused on security
and observation operations rather than gathering to demonstrate themselves.

                                                     11
The LFM was one of the major militia players at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in
2017, but several prominent leaders of the militia have referred to their involvement as a mistake (​The
Guardian, 15 August 2017​). Prior to their presence on the ground for this event, they claim to have
coordinated with local police, which was not always the case for other groups that travelled to
Charlottesville. Some of the larger chapters of the LFM, like the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia
(​MilitiaWatch, 24 March 2017​), have seen staffing changes since Charlottesville and the previous ​de facto
leader of the group has since disassociated with the movement.

The LFM has been active since late May in at least six states across the country, including in Pennsylvania,
South Carolina, Idaho, Nevada, Kansas, and Washington. The majority of their activity has involved the
group being present at, yet not directly engaging in, protests. For example, in July, the LFM was present at
a protest associated with the BLM movement in Pennsylvania to ‘patrol’ and to ‘prevent violence’ between
counter-demonstrators. That same month, the group was present in Charleston, South Carolina to
‘protect’ a Confederate monument during a counter-demonstration. In addition to presence at protests,
the group — especially the Kootenai County division in northern Idaho — has also engaged in public
meetings for field exercises or shooting practice at gun ranges.

Civilian Defense Force ​and​ American Contingency
The Civilian Defense Force (CDF) and American Contingency (AmCon) groups are recently formed armed
right-wing activist brands or formation patterns that combine a central national command with
highly-devolved local, state, and regional commands. These are grouped together because they both
represent the same current within the armed right of the US, and in many cases draw from the same pool
of recruits (likely with much overlap between members). Both groups were formed with the explicit
agenda to counter protests across the US this past summer, and they decry a failure of the ‘traditional’ US.

Both the CDF and AmCon rely heavily on shared branding and fairly broad ideological framing of active
conservative involvement in response to anti-police and pro-BLM protests. The CDF maintains a much
smaller presence and relies primarily on gathering intelligence on protest events happening around the
country. AmCon has a larger reach and is often used for sharing of ‘intelligence’ on left-wing and BLM
protests planned in particular regions, but also has a complementary weapons and tactics training
program built into a partner company run by the same team.

Both the CDF and AmCon have been active in Pennsylvania since the beginning of the summer. The CDF
has additionally been active in Wisconsin, while AmCon has also been active in Arizona, California,
Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Montana, and Texas. AmCon has been holding a number of training events in
recent months — including pistol training and training around carbine use, nearly all of which have been
to a sold-out audience — and recruitment events, such as ‘meet-and-greets.’ The CDF has held similar
training and recruitment events.

Right-Wing Street Movements: Highly active in brawls
Right-wing street movements represent the bulk of recorded direct, personal violence from both this
summer and previous years. These movements are highly masculine, often staffed by a younger core
membership, and participate in spectacular violence while running savvy public relations campaigns to a
press corps that often does not understand their real goals. Many members of these movements revel at
                                                    12
the idea of brawling in the street and have expressly indicated that they enjoy fighting with groups like
Antifa, for whom many of these organizations were formed to provoke. In order to remain publicly
acceptable, these groups will often describe themselves either in many layers of irony or as something
they are not, such as a solely Christian or conservative movement.

Leading groups in this category include the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. The map below denotes states
in which the activities of these groups have been detected in recent months.

Proud Boys
The Proud Boys are a fascist youth movement oriented towards street-fighting. Their ideology is to
‘defend western chauvinism.’ The group is right-wing and anti-left in nature and has had several members
convicted for violence. They were created by VICE News founder Gavin McInnes who has since backed
away from the group (​The Guardian, 22 November 2018​). The Proud Boys rely heavily on jokes and
silliness to downplay the group’s proclivity for violence, both threatened and real. The current ​de facto
leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is also the Florida director of ‘Latinos for Trump’ (​CNN, 1
October 2020​).

The Proud Boys are evolving into a more militant organization. Groups of young men increasingly show
up to Proud Boys events with rifles and plate carriers. Their members have actively attacked journalists
that they deem “Antifa media” at their events and have also begun to join militias such as the III%ers over
the past two years (​Detroit News, 17 September 2020​). After President Trump’s “stand back, stand by”
                                                    13
comments, Proud Boys chapters drafted up images with the phrase superimposed over their usual logo
for sale on t-shirts and other merchandise (​Mediaite, 30 September 2020​).

The Proud Boys have been active in events across at least 11 states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania,
Wisconsin, and Oregon, since the start of the summer. They have been present, yet not engaged, in
protests, though have also intervened in demonstrations, both with and without the use of violence. In
late September, for example, approximately 1,000 Proud Boys and Trump supporters gathered in Delta
Park in Portland, Oregon to hold an “End Antifa” rally in support of President Trump's re-election
campaign, and to call for an end to ‘domestic terrorism.’ One of the Proud Boys attacked a blogger,
pushing them to the floor and kicking them in the face, while three other demonstrators were issued
criminal citations for possession of loaded firearms in public.

Patriot Prayer
Patriot Prayer is a right-wing Christian street movement organized to actively confront leftist street
movements on the American West Coast. Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, was indicted on
charges of inciting a street riot at an anarchist hangout in Portland on May Day in 2019 (​OPB, 22 August
2019​). While Gibson describes himself as a “moderate” and his group as a “conservative Christian
organization,” Patriot Prayer’s actions — as well as the alliances it has made with other right-wing
organizations — indicate the group acts to the far right of these claims (​Vox, 8 September 2020​).

Patriot Prayer has been active exclusively in the Pacific Northwest since the start of the summer, with
activity centered in Oregon and Washington. The group has engaged in demonstrations, both peaceful and
violent. Perhaps their highest profile engagement took place in late August in Portland, Oregon, when
hundreds of vehicles formed a caravan demonstration in support of President Trump, alongside the
Proud Boys and the III%ers. During that rally, the combined militia groups used pepper spray and shot
paintball guns at counter-demonstrators rallying in support of the BLM movement and against police
brutality, as well as at journalists. They also intentionally drove their trucks through crowds of
counter-demonstrators who had tried to block the streets (​NBC, 30 August 2020​). Amidst the clashes, a
member of Patriot Prayer, Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson, was shot and killed by an unknown opposing activist.
Authorities later identified a suspect, Michael Reinoehl, who was killed by a federal task force in
September (​USA Today, 4 September 2020​). Law enforcement initially claimed that Reinoehl was armed,
but subsequent evidence has emerged suggesting that he “wasn’t obviously armed” and that the
authorities shot him without warning (​Washington Post, 10 September 2020​; ​New York Times, 13
October 2020​). ​Since then, President Trump has appeared to celebrate the alleged extrajudicial killing
(​CNN, 15 October 2020​).

While Patriot Prayer has remained fairly quiet in recent weeks following the Portland shooting, its
members are likely still energized from the summer of activity in the Pacific Northwest. Gibson, the
founder and leader of the group, has recently become involved with Ammon Bundy’s newest project, the
People’s Rights organization (introduced below) (​IREHR, 13 October 2020​).

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Devolved Right-Wing Libertarian Groups: Highly-devolved groups,
skeptical of state forces, with a history of conflict
Devolved right-wing libertarian groups are often among the most difficult to track despite holding
perhaps the most aggressive end goals. These groups are highly primed for a civil conflict they believe is
likely to break out in the future, though many have extremely different views on the subject. These groups
mostly operate in terms of hyper-local cells and short-range networks, but should also be considered
highly responsive to news and current events. This means that these groups may react at a moment’s
notice, well before the specifics of a news story or political event are made fully clear.

This category includes groups like the Boogaloo Bois and People’s Rights. The map below denotes states
in which the activities of these groups have been detected in recent months.

Boogaloo Bois
The Boogaloo Bois are the adherents to a diverse set of neo-dadaist armed aesthetics and modalities
aimed at setting off or preparing for the second American Civil War. They regard the likelihood of another
war as inevitable. Some Boogaloo Bois are explicitly right-wing while others have attempted to infiltrate
and use BLM protests as a way to accelerate the political situation towards mass violence. The Boogaloo
meme originates from right-wing weapons boards on 4chan’s /k/ but has seen much larger appeal among
absurdist libertarian armed activists since. The Boogaloo is not a cohesive group nor is there a meaningful

                                                    15
central ending ideology beyond commitment to a methodology of political change: that of civil war (or the
“Boogaloo”). People who identify as “Boogaloo Bois” are almost always right-wing, though often they are
situated in contention with the right-wing supporters of the police and Donald Trump (​Southern Poverty
Law Center, 5 June 2020​).

Some Boogaloo Bois have also positioned themselves as pro-BLM or in support of anti-fascist protest
movements. However, some of these same individuals have also been documented expressing far-right
racist views, for example, expressing support for white nationalist dream-state Rhodesia or in sharing
neo-Nazi irony memes online (​Bellingcat, 27 May 2020​). It is also the case that some police departments,
such as that of Newport News, Virginia, have sought to get along with and make concessions to local
Boogaloo cells.

The Boogaloo Bois have been active across at least 11 states since the start of the summer. Given their
non-cohesive nature, their activities span different regions of the country. In addition to demonstrations,
the Boogaloo Bois have also engaged in armed clashes with law enforcement, in line with their stated
agenda of police opposition. In late May, for example, two alleged members of the Boogaloo Bois fired
from a vehicle on federal officers working security at a protest associated with the BLM movement in
Oakland, California, killing one and injuring a second. The following week, an armed clash ensued
between police and a Boogaloo Bois member in Santa Cruz, California, where a police officer was shot
dead. During that same time period, at least three members of the Boogaloo Bois were arrested in Las
Vegas, Nevada when they arrived at a demonstration associated with the BLM movement armed with
weapons and Molotov cocktails, with alleged intentions to escalate the situation by attacking people.
Their involvement in demonstrations was further thrust into the limelight around the events that
unfolded in Kenosha, Wisconsin in late August. On the night of 25 August, about 1,000 demonstrators
gathered outside the courthouse in support of the BLM movement and to protest the shooting of Jacob
Blake by police days earlier. A teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, had responded to a ‘call-to-action’ by the
Kenosha Guard​6 on Facebook and joined a security detail including the Kenosha Guard and local Boogaloo
Bois (though he reportedly was not a member of either group) when he shot and killed two
demonstrators and injured another (​New York Times, 16 October 2020​).

People’s Rights (Bundy Ranch)
Ammon Bundy and the residents of the Bundy Ranch (past and present) have recently reorganized a
highly devolved “Uber for militias” called the People’s Rights organization. While Ammon Bundy has
previously ‘disavowed’ the US militia movement, he has reorganized a similar armed rapid-response
network based upon right-wing libertarian principles. He has helped to establish People’s Rights
organizations across 16 states that are divided up by regions (​Missoula Current, 28 August 2020​). Given
that much of their current work is in preparation for activation rather than to protest in the street, they
have only appeared in ACLED data in three states this summer. However, these groups, detailed in a
report by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), represent a highly devolved
and local organized militant group that could be activated at Bundy’s call fairly quickly (​IREHR, 13
October 2020​).

6
  The Kenosha Guard is a militia gathering that was created this summer and that has relied heavily on ‘muster call’ actions, thereby bringing
in dozens of people from outside of the militia leadership’s specific social sphere.

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The activities of the Bundy Ranch (and hence expected activity of the People’s Rights) have been centered
predominantly in the northwest, specifically in Idaho, Montana, and Utah. In August, protesters led by
Ammon Bundy held demonstrations for multiple days in a row in Boise, Idaho to demand an end to
coronavirus mask mandates, the lifting of the current state of emergency, and to oppose a proposal that
would limit the civil liability for businesses, schools, and governments. The special legislative session in
the statehouse was interrupted when a glass door was shattered and armed protesters rushed into the
gallery. On the second day of the special legislative session, when the protesters showed up again, Ammon
Bundy, amongst others, was arrested. Bundy was also arrested the following day when he and his
followers showed up yet again to the special legislative session. Earlier that month, Bundy, alongside
Shawna Cox, another libertarian activist, led a protest against the mandatory use of face coverings in
response to the coronavirus pandemic in Orem, Utah, outside Provo.

Drivers and Barriers of Militia Activity
While militia activity has been reported in at least 34 states and Washington, DC since late May 2020,
there are specific locations at heightened risk of militia activity during the upcoming election period and
its immediate aftermath. These assessments are made based on trends in the data and information
collected by ACLED and MilitiaWatch, as well as by taking into account a variety of drivers and barriers to
militia activity.

For example, locations that have seen ​substantial engagement in anti-coronavirus lockdown protests
are at heightened risk. This stems from the direct link between state authority and the imposition of such
restrictions, which challenges the ideals of many of the groups introduced above. These protests also
serve as crucial network-building events for right-wing activists to re-activate for other protests and
counter-demonstrations.

Also at risk are places where militias might have ​perceptions of ‘leftist coup’ activities​. While ‘leftist
coup’ activities are poorly defined among armed movements, they can be understood as fear of organized
left-wing activism against right-wing activity. Protests organized by and around BLM, or places where
anti-BLM activists may fear Antifa activity, are also at a heightened risk of militia activity. Leaders of
militias often refer to BLM activists as “Marxists” (​The Atlantic, November 2020​). It is important to note
that the ‘leftist coup’ phenomenon is not founded in any real detectable dynamics, and appears to rather
be related more to endemic paranoia among many of the armed militias of the US.

Spaces where militias have been active in setting up ​recruitment drives or holding training for
members ​are also at high risk. Even if militias are not engaging in demonstrations, for example, such
organization around recruitment and training indicates a highly mobilized contingency that can be easily
activated. Evidence of these events likely speaks to much greater preparedness training aimed at both
response to protest movements and a potential escalation around the election. Training events also serve
to reify group identity and membership by placing individual members in situations in which they train to
work together as a unit and further normalize their political views in conversation with ‘like minded’
individuals​. ​Such information is notoriously difficult to track, however. S​ome groups, for example, may
claim to train every other weekend, but unless researchers at MilitiaWatch or ACLED can find
confirmation of such training actually occurring, it is not coded, per ACLED methodology. Similarly, a
great deal of organizing of such events occurs on the individual-to-individual level; this makes tracking

                                                    17
such information across all militias by researchers and journalists nearly impossible. When such
information around recruitment and training can be verified, it is recorded by researchers at MilitiaWatch
or ACLED and is included in the ACLED dataset; this means that such information is almost surely
underreported in the data and should be assumed to be a conservative estimate.​7

In spaces where militia members cultivate ​personal relationships with police or law enforcement​,
there is likely to be increased militia activity. ​A friendly attitude by law enforcement towards militia
presence or activity ​has been seen at protests across the US (​The Intercept, 19 June 2020​). These
relationships are fostered for multiple reasons, including in contexts where police presence is limited due
to staffing shortages (i.e. retirements, resignations). In such cases, the likelihood that police may welcome
the ‘extra help’ in ‘keeping the peace’ is expected to bolster militia activity.

In line with scholarship around election violence and unrest, militia activity is expected to be higher in
competitive spaces — such as in swing states​. In election violence studies, different groups and agendas
shape the risk and geography of violence at key stages in the election cycle. In the pre-election cycle,
armed groups may operate in conjunction with the incumbent’s party to repress opposition candidates
and supporters. In these spaces, the objective is to alter the narrow margins of victory in favor of ‘their’
candidate. For example, there has been increasing engagement by right-wing militias in conjunction with
pro-Trump rallies — such as at the pro-Trump caravan demonstration, which devolved into violence
engaging with supporters of the BLM movement, involving the Proud Boys, III%ers, and Patriot Prayer, in
Portland, Oregon on 29 August. During the election period, armed groups may try to monitor polling
centers, potentially stifling voters. Multiple reports detail the fear and alarm of officials and voters at the
prospect of armed groups showing up to polling centers on Election Day (​Business Insider, 12 October
2020​). Statements issued by militia groups and their members, such as Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the
Oath Keepers, that militias would “be out on Election Day to protect people who are voting” (​LA Times, 10
October 2020​) reinforce those fears. Post-election, these groups will pivot their focus to vote counts.
Activity involving armed groups in such contexts is often pinned to the margins of election results,
especially if their preferred candidate does not win. Claims by members of groups like the Proud Boys
that “if Trump doesn't get re-elected … is when you're going to see a civil war” are particularly worrying
(​BET, 12 October 2020​). Rhetoric from President Trump suggesting that the election could be ‘rigged’
adds further fuel to this fire (​Financial Times, 12 October 2020​; ​New York Times, 15 October 2020​; ​NBC,
15 October 2020)​.

State capitals and ‘periphery’ towns also remain important potential inflection points for violence, as
they provide a natural coalescence point, especially in more rural and suburban areas that have been
particularly conducive to the foundation and regular activities of militia groups. Medium-population cities
and suburban areas with centralized zones — such as parks, main streets, and plazas — also serve as
locations of major gravitational pull. These locations are potentially fertile grounds for violence from the
7
  ​Per ACLED methodology, these events are coded with event type ​Strategic developments. ​The ​Strategic developments event type
within the ACLED dataset is unique from other event types in that it captures significant developments beyond both physical
violence directed at individuals or armed groups as well as demonstrations involving the physical congregation of individuals.
Because what types of events may be significant varies by context as well as over time, these events are, by definition, not
systematically coded. One action may be significant in one country at a specific time yet a similar action in a different country or
even in the same country during a different time period might not have the same significance. This means that ​Strategic
developments events should not be assumed to be cross-context and -time comparable as other ACLED event types can be. (For
more, see ​this ACLED methodology primer​.) Given the sourcing limitations around militia recruitment and training events, they
should be treated in the same way, and are hence coded as such.
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groups identified in this report. This is especially true in contexts where groups are able to draw from a
large population outside of the primary location, and in places that can be easily accessed from these
hinterland and suburban regions.

Barriers to militia activity, meanwhile, can include locations with an overwhelming left-leaning
population and/or large populations unsupportive of militias. Within these parameters, a location like
Albany, New York would be more likely to see violence related to the right-wing armed movements we
have identified, while New York City would remain less likely.

States at risk of militia activity
Taking these drivers and barriers into account, capitals and peripheral towns, as well as
medium-population cities and suburban areas with centralized zones, in ​Georgia, Michigan,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, ​and Oregon are deemed to be at highest risk of increased militia activity in
the election and post-election period. Meanwhile, ​North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, California, ​and ​New
Mexico ​are found to be at moderate risk.

States at highest risk

Georgia
Georgia is a swing state in both the presidential election — in which polls place Trump and Biden virtually
neck and neck (​New York Times, 16 October 2020​) — as well as two senate races.​8 Private groups are
barred from “forming themselves together as a military unit or parade or demonstrate in public with
firearms” according to Georgia law (​Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 2020​), yet a number of
militias have been active across the state in recent months. These include splinters of the Three
Percenters (III%ers) — including national splinters like the III% Security Force and the III% American
Brotherhood of Patriots as well as local splinters like the Georgia III% Martyrs​9 — and groups such as the
Georgia Militia, the 229 Militia, and the NFAC.

Demonstrations associated with the BLM movement have made up the majority — 61% — of
demonstration events in Georgia since the killing of George Floyd in late May. These demonstrations
spiked shortly after Floyd’s murder, and again shortly after the killing of Rayshard Brooks in mid-June in
Atlanta. Brooks, a Black man, was shot and killed by police after being confronted for sleeping in a car
outside of a fast food restaurant; authorities claim Brooks took an officer’s taser and ran away, when they
opened fire, shooting him in the back.

8
  Republican Senator David Perdue is seeking re-election against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. Meanwhile, a special
election is being held following Senator Johnny Isakson’s resignation at the end of 2019. Governor Kemp appointed Republican
Kelly Loeffler as his replacement at the time; Loeffler is now running for election against a number of other candidates (no
primary was held). Frontrunners in that race include Loeffler, Republican Doug Collins, and Democrat Raphael Warnock; if no
candidate receives a majority of votes during the November election, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff, to be held in
early January 2021.
9
  The Georgia III% Martyrs appear to have rebranded as the Georgia III% Guardians. Despite the group claiming to be a
distinct one from the Martyrs brand, the leadership of the newer Guardians is essentially the same.
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